Kikizo Interview with Yojiro Ogawa

Interview Data:

  • Interview Date: 17 April 2005
  • Interview Topics: Kimishine, DS, Yuji Naka, Sega Sammy
  • Interview Source: Kikizo external.png

Sonic Team: Kikizo Interview Spring 2005

We catch up with SEGA veteran, Yojiro Ogawa, to look back at Project Rub and discuss topical Sega matters, like PSP, Sammy's buyout and key Sega franchises.

It wouldn't be unfair to say that Yojiro Ogawa is a lesser-known Sega veteran than some of his well-promoted colleagues. While the likes of Yu Suzuki, Toshihiro Nagoshi and his closest colleague Yuji Naka are well-known industry figures, Ogawa-san is nonetheless an extremely respected game director within Sega, who has started to get a little more limelight in the recent times.

And rightly so; Ogawa has worked on some of the very finest Sega properties of the last decade. After joining the company in 1995, he worked on the legendary RPG for Sega Saturn, Panzer Dragoon Saga, which to this day still fetches prices of up to $200 on eBay. He was central to Dreamcast projects such as Sonic Adventure, Chu Chu Rocket and Phantasy Star Online, while he has more recently produced PSO III, Sonic Mega Collection, and of course, Project Rub / Feel the Magic for Nintendo DS.

And with the popular DS title rolled out worldwide, it's the perfect chance to catch up with Ogawa-san for a pre-E3 flavoured chat. There's a good selection of tasty items on the agenda here, although for the full lowdown on Sonic Team's next big things - like Shadow the Hedgehog, and Phantasy Star Universe, Sonic 360, you're best off checking back during E3 when we'll be delivering our usual, killer Sega coverage…

Kikizo: Many gamers have been enjoying Project Rub these last few months, so let's talk about that for a while. Why are all the humans in the game presented as a silhouette - is there any particular reason?
Yojiro Ogawa: This is not only a slightly eccentric, stylish game, but we also regard its story as important. We think it would be easier for players to empathize universally by using the silhouettes as character representations.

One of Sonic Team's philosophies is that we create what will achieve the most recognition around the world. When we create a title, we would like as many gamers as possible to enjoy it. That's why we conveyed the story of Project Rub without using many words, for example. And the use of silhouettes is also for that goal.

Kikizo: What is the meaning of the title "Project Rub"? Did it just refer to the DS's touch feature, or it there other significance? Why was the name different in each territory?
Ogawa: In Japanese, the words "rub" and "love" have the identical pronunciation; so it has a double meaning. However, we took the title "Project Rub" because we use the touch-sensitivity panel, and the Rub Rabbits in the game acquire love by rubbing objects. The reason the name varies in different regions is down to what we thought would suit each region's characteristics, even though previous Sonic Team games had universal names.

Kikizo: How did the unique art style come about - whose idea was that look?
Ogawa: It was determined that we would take the silhouette art style from the point when the first original plan document was drawn by Director, Takumi Yoshinaga. The person in charge of artwork worked hard, trying to make it more acceptable for the public, though.

Kikizo: You get stuck in some pretty crazy scenarios in the title - how did you come up with some of the ideas for the various challenges?
Ogawa: Basically, the scenes are divided into regular story scenes that come from gameplay, and special scenes. We put all our energy into coming up with scenes that would surprise players and exceed expectations. After thinking up a heap of ideas, we just sorted through them - we imagined the startled facial expressions of players!

[Page 2]

Kikizo: How do you think the game's reception compared in each of the three major territories - Japan, North America and Europe?
Ogawa: As far as I see the reception in magazines or on the Net, Japan and US show almost the same response. Each scene is crazy and the story is a little bit sad. I guess they sympathize with the sense of watching movies that you briefly play and get satisfied. I don't believe there is any particular difference between the reception in Japan and the US. In Europe, perhaps it's possible that they tend to appreciate the stylish approach, or that a girl appears in silhouette - sort of a movie that turned into a game. I think players realized that they can enjoy it casually, and that no other game utilized the functions of DS as thoroughly.

Kikizo: We love Project Rub, however some gamers wanted more in terms of longevity. Were there any sections that had to be cut for release to make the launch?
Ogawa: It is difficult to decide what sort of gamer demands to respond to, and it wouldn't be so difficult to try to develop a longer title. However, you might find it tiresome if you were told to watch a 50-hour movie! If it were a game, what would you feel? Especially, in Japan these days, it is important to give users a certain degree of fulfilment and the ending within the limited amount of time they have available to play games.

We were somewhat worried about the issue of the length, and as a result, we made a decision to focus on the way in which players would feel they want to play "just a little longer". It is like a Japanese person saying, "To eat moderately is beneficial to your health". It means, it is right to stop eating when you feel you can eat a bit more?

As a result of this, we are told by experienced gamers that it would be better if the game was a bit longer, but we have got an evaluation that the length like this is right from people who are casual players. It is a matter of experience with games. That said, the game features the three difficulty modes: Normal, Hard and Hell. So, I feel that players who intensely play the game will be satisfied in their own way.

Sometimes, people who keep complaining are just going to complain no matter what - they don't clear a long game, claiming it's too lengthy - and then grumble at a brief and short game, saying, "there's not enough to do!" [laughs].

We don't emphasize opinions of critics very much, and it's the same with movies; many movies that turned out to be successes even though critics' comments weren't wholly positive, but the film's content aligned with the audience's interest.

Kikizo: With all this in mind, do you have any plans for a Project Rub sequel yet?
Ogawa: We will look at the performance of Project Rub, particularly in Europe, to determine whether we will make a sequel.

Kikizo: Do you think dating type games have potential in western markets, now that a few are actually being released, like this title and Sprung from Ubisoft?
Ogawa: We do not look on this game as a date simulator, but as a slapstick love-story/comedy, like you can see in movies. You can enjoy how they get attracted to each other in time starting from their first encounter and overcoming various obstacles, and what happens to them - the game follows these well-known patterns. Because movies of this kind are accepted, we believe this sort of thing can work with consumers as well.

Kikizo: Will you be working with any older UGA franchises anytime soon - specifically, Space Channel 5 and Rez? Especially since Takumi Yoshinaga [director of Space Channel 5] worked with you on Project Rub…?
Ogawa: It may be possible when the opportunity comes, but I have no idea what form it might take. I guess it depends on consumer demand.

[page 3]

Kikizo: Is the DS easy to work with? What sort of special features of the DS would you like to see used more in future titles?
Ogawa: I feel it is easy to develop games for. Nintendo provides a lot of support and there was no particular problem in development. But besides that, this is hardware that stirs your imagination. So there's also this aspect that because it's enjoyable to create games for, it's also easier to develop on DS.

It is difficult to answer which functions we want to utilize. If it was a game console with just the double screen, we wouldn't be so interested. Same if it has the touch-sensitivity panel and sound recognition function only. So, if we have an opportunity to develop a title next time, we would like to interest users by employing voice recognition or radio communication in ways that are not available in other titles, taking advantage of all the DS functions.

Kikizo: What DS games by other developers are you most looking forward to?
Ogawa: Because the DS itself is so unique, I am interested in all upcoming titles right now. I just wonder, "what they are doing on this title?" and in that sense, I suppose all the software contains the challenge of something new and I am looking forward to them.

Kikizo: Are you working on PSP as well and if so are you more excited about working on it?
Ogawa: I really only took glances at what the other team is doing for the platform during. However, in my personal opinion, both platforms are good. Since PSP and DS have different goals, it is hard to compare them, and I cannot see any point in doing so. Their audiences, and what users expect in them, are both different. Right now, there is no direct proposition that I will develop a PSP title, but a chance may appear in the course of time. If that opportunity arises, I would like to offer new gaming styles after considering the PSP audience carefully.

Kikizo: To what extent is Yuji Naka involved Sonic Team projects like Project Rub?
Ogawa: Naka-san checks games at important stages of development on a case-by-case basis, and makes adjustments to directions. But he is very involved with development, and we were told to readjust things down to the minutest details. He also gives feedback on ideas for a title, like package designs or the logo. I assume it was a quite a job for the developers since they were told to constantly redo things by both Naka and myself. Some ideas, such as blowing out candles, also came from Naka.

Kikizo: How do Sega's studios feel after the Sammy takeover?
Ogawa: There has been nothing significantly different to affect us; to be honest the atmosphere changed more in the past when the studios became separate companies. At that time the sense of tension increased. Now that we have been re-integrated, we are keeping in step again to become an enormous force.

Kikizo: What direction do you think the industry is headed? Where would you like it to go?
Ogawa: I can talk only about my very personal opinion of course! But besides games, other rivals have emerged, such as cellular phones, the Internet, and low-price DVD. Games should be bought and played more readily, I think. Currently, you need to purchase game hardware for exclusive use and go to a game store to purchase expensive software. For instance, with a DVD, you can play it even if you purchase a player made by any manufacturer. Also, unless it becomes possible to obtain titles in more general shops such as bookstores, games have no chance against other forms of amusement.

Next, we should create games that are more closely associated with people's lifestyles. And finally, we must reconsider the appreciation of game creators and the relationship between publishers and development departments. Because that story is likely to be a long one, I look forward to resuming it when we go out for a drink!


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